Ocean Oddity: Sea Cucumber Feasting on Plankton Buffet

Brian Skerry snapped this feeding sea cucumber in New England’s chilly waters, off the coast of Maine. To learn more about this real-life sci-fi creature, we spoke to Dr. Rick Hochberg of the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, who filled us in on the details. Based on this extreme close-up of the animal’s mouth and tentacles, Dr. Hochberg guesses that this is a Psolus fabricii, commonly called the scarlet psolus.

“The color of this subtidal sea cucumber is generally scarlet to orange (at least around the oral tentacles), but the body may be somewhat brownish. They can grow to about 8 inches long and are often found associated with hard substrata (rocks, reefs) where they spend their time feeding on suspended food in the water column (e.g., plankton). The picture shows the animal bending one of its ten oral tentacles toward its mouth to clean off the microscopic food that is caught by the extremely numerous and fine, mucus-coated tentacles.” Yum!

Did you know that June is National Zoo and Aquarium month? If you want to see creatures like this marvelous sea cucumber close up, now is a great time to pay a visit to your local aquarium. Here in New England, we have one of the country’s finest – the New England Aquarium, where Brian Skerry is an explorer-in-residence. Support these important institutions with a visit to the NEAq, or your local aquarium this month.